Name: Milton Keynes Marathon (MKM)
Distance: 26.2 Miles (half marathon, marathon relay & superhero fun run also available)
Date: 4th May 2015
Location: Milton Keynes MK1 1ST
The marathon takes place about a week later than the famous London Marathon (which takes place around 26th April) and, living in London, I had the opportunity to go and check out how the London Marathon works before travelling up to Milton Keynes to try my own.
Whilst not as glamorous as the London Marathon (Milton what...? people asked when I explained where I was going for the weekend), but the atmosphere is completely different, rather than the roaring crowds, impressive sights and waves and waves of charity groups vying for attention (which of course is fantastic), the Milton Keynes marathon offers a much more community feel.
Whilst crowds were particularly sparse at times, they made up for it in enthusiasm. Whilst even running through the quiet sub-urban areas of Milton Keynes, we were met by regular groups of children holding bowls of jelly babies, drinks and snacks as we passed through.
Training, Injury & Recovery
I did, and it was a very painful experience as you might be able to see from the videos below.
Over Christmas I'd put on a little bit more body fat than I was happy with (reaching your calorie surplus to put on muscle using mince pies and Christmas dinners will do that quite easily).
I therefore signed myself up for a different fitness event each month, starting off with a 10k in February, a half marathon in March, an obstacle race in the Arctic Circle in April followed by a marathon in May.
Naively I had thought that the fitness gained from each event would compound and transition seamlessly, ensuring that I was marathon ready simply by training for the preceding events (this was not the case).
Upon my heroic return from the Arctic circle, with just 3 weeks to go until my full marathon, I devoted all my energy into marathon training.
As I had a mere 6 days of holiday left before I had to return to full time work, I saw this as an opportunity to make the most of my time off and drastically increase the duration of my training (note: this is not a good idea).
As with all training for big events, running or otherwise, it's important to not only train properly, but also eat the right nutrition. For long distance, you want to ensure you get enough carbohydrates to fuel your runs and high quality sources of protein.
Having completed my half marathon in a respectable time of 1 hour 42 minutes (a time I expect to reduce over the next couple of years), I was confident in my ability to run a sub 4 hour marathon with that level of fitness.
Roughly 7 miles in I felt a rubbing on the inside of my hip which I'd not experienced before which left me hobbling back home for the final 2 miles.
I was concious I had not trained sufficiently to perform as well as I'd liked in the marathon so tried to run again the very next day, this time my hip ached in pain after merely 5 miles, leaving me hobbling home again, unsatisfied and increasingly worried about the upcoming 26.2 miles that awaited me 2 weeks later.
Doing my research, I associated the hip pain with a condition caused by "bursitis", an inflammation of the bursa which is caused by (you guessed it) drastic increases in workout intensity and is commonly associated with weak abductor and gluteus medius muscles.
The condition set my training back quite a bit, as I knew I'd have to rest it and strengthen the associated areas in order to survive running over 26 miles.
My strategy after a bit of reading around on the best way to recover was a mixture of 0 miles running and lying hip abductor exercises 4 times a week, starting off with 10 lying leg side raises on each side and progressing gradually moving up to 20 lying leg side raises with 5 circular motions in either direction.
Personally, I found this to be really useful in minimizing the pain and helping me to walk without looking like I've got some sort of gangster limp.
If you're concerned you've picked up an injury around from running, check out this link, which lists the most common hip injuries from running and associated recovery strategies.
After about 10 days of stretching, resting and strengthening my gluteus medius and hip abductors, I was 99% pain free, but with only 4 days left till the marathon itself, my body was not sufficiently prepared to face the task of 26.2 miles.
My only preparation was having run a half marathon several weeks earlier (naturally this wasn't enough!).
Course & Race Day
The first 7 miles or so took took place through the city area of Milton Keynes, coursing up and down city roads, often with a small, yet gradual incline or decline.
Particularly whilst heading down a gradual decline, this gave people the insight to save energy as we watched the course incline for the participants 5 minutes ahead.
After finishing the first seven or eight miles, I felt as if I'd seen every road in Milton Keynes town centre twice, fortunately the course opened up to the Milton Keynes roads and off onto more suburban terrain.
Much of the later areas of the course took place on Milton Keynes "redways" which are simply the term used for local paths for pedestrians and cyclists.
At the very end of the course we edged ever closer to the finish line, which was hosted in the Milton Keynes stadium. Being able to see the finish line after several hours of pain was a great sight to see.
Facilities & Amenities
Of course, there is always the option of setting up a running app and pounding out 26.2 miles in your local area (though I'm not sure why you'd want to do that!
Similarly, I wouldn't advise this as part of your marathon training as the aerobic, i.e. endurance, benefits you receive from running diminish rapidly after more than 3 hours of running, not only this but your recovery time is greatly increased - not ideal when training for a big race!).
So that separates the MKM from picking a local park and running with your smartphone for a few hours?
Well, in terms of the facilities, the Milton Keynes Marathon team mentioned in an email that the following would be available on the day:
- Race Timing
- Water every 3 miles
- Cups of gatorade at miles 9, 15 and 21
- Caffine free energy gels at miles 12 and 18
- Medal with optional engraving
- Standard post race goodies
- Health and safety staff throughout the course (if needed!)
The bottles themselves were also convenient to carry and had a sports cap this was great during the race as you could carry the bottle around for a mile or two keeping yourself hydrated effectively throughout the course without throwing and spilling water in your own face accidentally.
With the Gatorade however, this wasn't quite as effective. I assume due to budgeting issues they couldn't offer a Gatorade bottle to each runner passing by, in place of this they emptied into cups whereby half the mix is spilled unless you slow yourself down.
As a silver lining, they did seem to have an excess of Gatorade bottles towards mile 21 and happily offered them to runners jogging through.
The medal (very happily received) is a half gold, half glittery circle with a green ribbon.
Additionally, they have a specific area on the back of the medal where you can engrave it with your finishing time, this is a particularly nice touch for those who have just secured a new marathon PB or have broken a specfic time barrier they've been training towards such as sub 4, sub 3:30 or even sub 3 for the endurance athletes among us.
One aspect which I was slightly worried they wouldn't have when I received no reply to an email I sent in response, was the availability of pacers.
My particular pacer was a 48 year old lady who had already completed 21 marathons herself.
Again, fitting in with the community "well do the best with what we've got" kind of vibe, they didn't have the standard backpack and flag combination, which I've seen during both the London marathon and the Richmond half marathon this year.
Instead, each pacer had a simple balloon with the times written onto them, certainly not as effective as flags and nowhere near as visible if you wasn't nearby, but for me it was quite quaint and fitted the community feel of the day nicely.
Running for 26.2 miles is not as simple as completing two half marathons, effects on your body of pounding out miles after a certain point become increasingly severe. As mentioned above, my training had not gone as planned, leaving me with my longest run being a meager 13.1 miles compared to the exponentially more difficult 26.2 miles that awaited me.
This presented me with a range of problems on race day which I did not encounter till I was over the halfway point of the marathon.
For the first 13 miles, I was having a great time, I felt light and was keeping up with the 4 hour pacer with ease.
I also stuck to my pre-planned structure of an energy gel and water every 3 miles to keep myself hydrated and reduce the likelihood of the dreaded "wall" that comes from a lack of energy in the muscles.
After mile 14, the concept of keeping up with the 4 hour pacer became (much to my frustration) increasingly difficult and at mile 16 my calves surged with pain and I collapsed (rather dramatically) onto all fours with a roar.
This is where my challenge truly began, up to this point had been relatively pleasant, however the feeling of my calves exploding, as if someone had shot me in the back of the legs, meant that the remaining 10 miles would certainly not be as enjoyable.
I had torn my calves, meaning that now running was a long and distant memory, leaving me faced with the reality that hobbling forward was the only option.
Though this is hardly surprising as, due to my hip injury weeks earlier, I had not had the opportunity to build the endurance necessary for a marathon, after all at this point I had already covered 3 more miles than I had ever ran in my entire life.
Mixed in with disappointment was equal measures of anxiety, at the thought of hobbling forward for 10 miles as my body continued to deteriorate, and determination, pulling out of the marathon, even if I was to be confined to a wheelchair for a week after the race, was not an option at this point.
Internally realizing the humor of my struggles, I created a second video to immortalize my pain and hopefully serve as a warning for anyone attempting to tackle a marathon without sufficient training.
Half way into mile 24 I also saw an increasing frequency of ambulance staff (or potentially this was hallucinations) one of which was treating a participant who had seemingly collapsed by the side of the path.
At mile 25, I joked with the nearby ambulance staff that I hope they were ready to treat me at the end of the race.
By mile 18, the hobbling from calf pain and hip pain on one side of my body caused me to place greater force on my left foot whilst running, by mile 19 a blister had formed around the little toe on my left foot (the thought of an easy amputation of my little toe at this point became an attractive proposition).
From this point, my running stance was almost identical to that of Quasimodo from the famous novel and Disney film, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
I could only laugh at this point, the looks of extreme pity from each of the local supporters only confirmed how obvious my pain was to anyone who could see me hobble.
A personal trainer who picked up a knee injury from playing football during prior to the marathon which subsequently derailed his own training.
We hobbled and walked together for several miles, though as fatigue set in, conversation went from distracting ourselves from the immediate pain by talking about hobbies and careers, to regular groans, expressions of pain and desire to make it just to the next mile marker.
The crowd were fantastic at this point, enthusiastically cheering, offering support and with the local children holding out bowls of jelly babies at regular intervals.
I did however question their sincerity when they cried "you're doing so well" and "you look amazing" as we winced and hobbled in pain through the suburban streets.
The first 15 miles or so took me approximately 2 hours, with the remaining 11 miles taking more than 2.5 hours. On our travels, it must have been about mile 21 at this point, we came across a pair of women, for whom this was their 20th marathon.
Hobbling next to a personal trainer and two marathon veterans who said that "the wheels had come off" made me laugh at my naivety prior to starting the marathon.
Mental images of crying "go on without me!" flashed into my mind as the pain from my calves brought me to my knees for the 3rd time during the race, like a wounded solider who had just lost the lower half of his body in a battle.
Crowds (sympathizing with my pained) expression, attempted to encourage me by informing me of "downhill" elements coming up, unfortunately this was not the news I wanted to hear, as hobbling on a gradient only exaggerated the pain in my lower body.
This was quite an experience, finally hobbling around the final 400 metres of the stadium track I attempted to use the support of the crowd to power me through the final 200 metres.
Looking back this must have been quite entertaining to watch, a 6ft bearded man attempting to hobble quickly for the final 200m, only to end up literally hopping as the muscles in one of his calves refuses to support him.
After an incredibly difficult and painful 2.5 hours of hobbling, mental fatigue and nearly every area below my chest begging for rest, I was done, in a time of 4 hours and 37 minutes.
Not too bad for a first marathon without proper training I'd say.
Post Race Recovery
After I had enough energy to actually realize and process what had happened to me over the last 2.5 hours, I stood up and walked to collect my medal, using the rails as my much needed support.
Clinging onto nearby walls and whatever else was in reach, I managed to maneuver my body to go and meet my friend where we waited for a massage to aid the recovery in our exhausted limbs.
Fortunately the wait for a massage was about 20 minutes, allowing me to lie down on the floor and eat my way through the post-race snacks provided (this was simply an oat bar, a banana and some water) there was also an energy gel in the goody bag, but after eating at least 8 over the course of the marathon, I opted instead for real food.
10 minutes later and I was able to stand up unsupported which I was quite happy with, walking normally was still out of reach, luckily one of my dear friends, who also completed the marathon, supported me walking as we headed out of the stadium for a well deserved hot chocolate and sandwich from a nearby coffee shop.
Both of us laughed at the ridiculousness of our marathon experience, he himself felt under-prepared due to a flurry of social commitments throughout the weeks leading up to marathon day. Following a relaxed sit down, we made our way back to London.
In terms of recovery, the day after the marathon was particularly difficult, the pain from walking was close to that I experienced from mile 23, but throughout the entire day.
To speed up my recovery I would have liked an ice bath, but I only have access to a shower unfortunately! I also started eating more calories than my daily maintenance requires in order to give my body the fuel it needed to repair the broken muscles and tired tendons.
If you picked up a blister on your foot from running a marathon like I did, I followed the recommendations on this link which I found to be effective, additionally I found that wearing compression clothing at night, particularly leggings helped the recovery of my legs faster than sleeping without wearing compression gear.
It's now the Sunday after the marathon on Monday (6 days later) and I'm almost back to full walking speed and I managed to give my legs a gentle workout in the gym without any discomfort. Depending on how well you rest and the level of training you've done, you may be able to recover from a marathon even quicker.
Small Marathon Tips
- When training, never increase intensity (distance or otherwise) more than 10% per week.
- Don't try to do long runs every day as you don't give yourself the recovery time needed to perform well
These would have both worked to prevent my bursitis condition in training and ensured I was more prepared for the distance element of the marathon.
- During the race, aim to stick a pacer who is aiming for your target time if you're not confident in pacing yourself effectively.
- After the race, go for the massage, even if you have to pay for it
- After the race, put yourself into an ice bath where possible.
These will enhance your recovery and heal those aches and pains more effectively. Naturally there's lots and lots of tips, though as you will know from this article, I am no marathon veteran!
If you're thinking of trying your first marathon, I'd thoroughly recommend reading a full "my first marathon" or similar guide, otherwise you might end up in a position like I did..
The event was well organised with the right resources and facilities available when you needed them, the scenery was rather varied, covering suburban areas, inner city and free flowing motorway style roads.
All of this was encapsulated in a community environment where it felt as if the entire population of Milton Keynes was out to support the day's runners.
If you are considering adding the Milton Keynes marathon to your marathon routine, or are going for a personal best, bear in mind that it may be more difficult due to the gentle yet frequent gradients of the course, particularly towards the start of the race.
If you do happen to sign up to this marathon, or any other, I cannot express the importance of proper training.
Feeling like your lower body is breaking down beneath you is an interesting experience, although not entirely pleasant. It's also absolutely essential to recover effectively, I'm now 6 days into my recovery and am nearly walking properly, my left foot may have some sort of bruising still present, but I'm hoping this will clear up over the next few days.
Personally, I won't be leaving the marathon scene for good till I've at least finished a marathon distance in under 4 hours, as such I've thrown myself into the London Marathon ballot, though I'm hoping for a bit more time to train if I'm successful!
In future I might be sure to complete a few more half marathons and 10ks beforehand...
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